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April 25, 2013

Antarctic Bookshelf 7: Aurora Australis edited by Ernest Shackleton, 1986 Reissue

In 1908 the crew of Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition occupied themselves over the dark Antarctic winter in part by producing Aurora Australis, the first book written, printed, illustrated, and bound on the frozen continent. Printed on a letterpress and bound in wooden covers fashioned from provisions cases, less than 70 copies are believed to exist. As a result the book fell into relative obscurity until it saw reissue as a trade edition nearly eight decades later, allowing the general public to experience the text and artwork in its entirety.

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The trade edition is not a strict facsimile of the original book. Besides obviously lacking wooden boards, it has two notable additions. One is a preface by Lord [Baron] Edward Shackleton, the younger son of Sir Ernest. He comments on the original edition: “Edited by my father, painstakingly printed by [Ernest] Joyce, [Frank] Wild, and [George] Marston, and bound by [Bernard] Day in Venesta packing case boards, it has become a thing of legend. It seems that no copies were sold to the general public and with so few having been produced in the first place many Antarctic collectors have never had the opportunity even to see a copy. It contains no very important information about the success or otherwise of expedition affairs but it does show imagination, ingenuity and a surprising degree of professionalism in the difficult circumstances.”

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The other addition is a valuable introduction by John Millard, an Antarctic scholar with a special interest in Aurora Australis. From Millard we learn that Sir Ernest Shackleton, a lover of poetry and literature, took great pleasure in polar publishing. He had served as editor of The South Polar Times and The Blizzard magazines on Robert F. Scott’s Discovery Expedition of 1901-1903, and recognized the benefits of such projects to his men’s well-being, creativity, and morale.

In 1981 Millard initiated a worldwide search of all extant copies of Aurora Australis, hoping to catalog the history of each one’s ownership. “To add to the useful information of the survey I also sought any information about inscriptions, signatures or other annotations of interest to historians, bibliophiles, book collectors and book sellers. To date (Spring 1985) with the help of many correspondents, I have located 56 copies. There is also some evidence for a further number of copies as yet untraced.”

Millard collected data from auction records, booksellers’ catalogs, institutional archives, and private libraries. In the process, he learned that some of the copies vary slightly in content and arrangement. For instance there are two versions of a particular article, ‘An Ancient Manuscript’ by Shellback (Frank Wild), one in which an illustration replaces text and another in which text replaces illustration. Other variants throughout the books have to do with ink color, cover sheet placement, and missing leaves.

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Millard concludes by speculating on how the 60 or so copies were distributed: “It seems that one original intention was to sell copies of the Aurora Australis to the general public for the benefit of Expedition funds. This would have been a logical idea after the success of the facsimile editions of the South Polar Times. Margery and James Fisher, in their biography of Shackleton, suggested that this was not done because difficulties arose over the compensation to be given to Joyce, Wild, Marston & Day. A more likely reason would seem to be insufficient paper, ink, and available time to produce a sufficient quantity to make this a viable proposition. It seems likely that each member of the overwintering party received at least one copy of the book and other copies were given to friends and benefactors of the Expedition.”

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Technology has come a long way since Millard conducted his research nearly 30 years ago. An increasing number of museums and collections are posting their archives online where several presentations of Aurora Australis can already be found. Two of the more impressive showcases as of this writing are by the Biodiversity Heritage Library/Museum Victoria, Melbourne and the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney. The momentum of the internet and global communication may well bring all copies online with time, enabling comparison and study with increased ease.

The “First Public Edition” of Aurora Australis was published in 1986 by Bluntisham Books and The Paradigm Press of Arlburgh, Harleston, Norfolk UK. This book itself is now out of print and relatively hard to find.


February 25, 2013

Antarctic Bookshelf 6: The Heart of the Antarctic by Ernest Shackleton

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“Men go out into the void spaces of the world for various reasons. Some are actuated simply by a love of adventure, some have a keen thirst for scientific knowledge, and others again are drawn away from the trodden paths by the ‘lure of little voices,’ the mysterious fascination of the unknown. I think that in my own case it was a combination of these factors that determined me to try my fortune once again in the frozen south… The Discovery expedition [1901-1903] had brought back a great store of information, and had performed splendid service in several important branches of science. I believed that a second expedition could carry the work still further.”

These are the opening lines of The Heart of the Antarctic, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s chronicle of the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-1909. The Nimrod Expedition, as it is commonly called, was Shackleton’s second of four voyages to Antarctica and his first as Commander. Unlike the more famous Endurance Expedition to follow, the Nimrod endeavor was never novelized. Its descriptions remain penned solely by Shackleton and his crew who kept daily diaries throughout the journey, recording everything from scientific surveys and food consumption to their states of mind and the weather. The Heart of the Antarctic is informed by these writings, providing a thorough account of the voyage and great insight into the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

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Shackleton arranges the book in chronological order. The trip begins with its inception and funding in England, the securing of supplies in Norway, and the vessel Nimrod‘s transit to Lyttelton, New Zealand where dogs, ponies, and final provisions are brought on board. On arriving off Antarctica’s shores in January 1908, the company of fifteen men established their winter quarters at the nearest suitable landing site, Cape Royds on McMurdo Sound.

The team’s hut, a prefabricated structure measuring 627 square feet, was constructed shortly upon arrival. It included a kitchen area, darkroom, laboratory, storage section, and living space consisting of several two-person cubicles that acquired addresses such as “No. 1 Park Lane,” “The Gables,” and “The Rogue’s Retreat.” It was in the cramped quarters of the “The Rogue’s Retreat” that crew members Ernest Joyce and Frank Wild oversaw the production of Aurora Australis, the “first book ever written, printed, illustrated and bound in the Antarctic,” as Shackleton writes. (More about Aurora Australis in my next Antarctic Bookshelf post.)

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In early March 1908, six of the team members undertook the first ever ascent of Mount Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano. At 12,450 feet in elevation, the climb took seven days to complete. The group braved gales, injuries, and shortages, calling for resourcefulness and improvisation. “They were now very thirsty,” Shackleton writes, “but they found that if they gathered a little snow, squeezed it into a ball and placed it on the surface of a piece of rock, it melted at once almost on account of the heat of the sun and thus they obtained a makeshift drink.” Eventually five of the men attained the summit, the sixth having been incapacitated by frostbite.

At the crater’s edge, meteorological experiments were carried out, surveys were made, and geological specimens were retrieved. The photo above was taken by Douglas Mawson, the expedition’s physicist. The trek report describes the scene: “We stood on the verge of a vast abyss, and at first could see neither to the bottom nor across it on account of the huge mass of steam filling the crater and soaring aloft in a column 500 to 1000 ft. high. After a continuous loud hissing sound, lasting for some minutes, there would come from below a big dull boom, and immediately great globular masses of steam would rush upwards to swell the volume of the snow-white cloud which ever sways over the crater. This phenomenon recurred at intervals during the whole of our stay at the crater. Meanwhile, the air around us was extremely redolent of burning sulphur. Presently a pleasant northerly breeze fanned away the steam cloud, and at once the whole crater stood revealed to us in all its vast extent and depth. Mawson’s angular measurement made the depth 900 ft. and the greatest width about half a mile.”

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Erebus, however, was a light jog compared to the real work that lay ahead. (The ascent was in fact an unscheduled endeavor, proposed by Shackleton during a period of down-time “to seek some outlet for our energies that would be useful in advancing the cause of science, and the work of the expedition.”) Shackleton’s three major objectives were attempted by organizing the company into three sledging parties. The first of these, the Southern Party, set their sights on reaching the Geographic South Pole. Led by ‘The Boss’ himself, this group set off in October 1908, trekking to within 100 miles of their destination. Along the way they crossed and charted much new terrain, notably that of the Great Ice Barrier (now known as the Ross Ice Shelf), the Trans-Antarctic mountain range, the mighty Beardmore glacier which they named after their principal benefactor, and the central polar plateau. The 73-day march was by far the longest southern polar journey to that date and a record convergence on either Pole, a feat for which Shackleton was knighted. The return voyage was no less challenging, beset by dwindling rations, severe weather conditions and the need to man-haul after losing all the ponies. Altogether the Southern Party travelled over 1,750 miles by foot and sledge.

The second team, the Northern Party, was tasked with reaching the South Magnetic Pole. The three-man group departed winter quarters in September 1908, arriving at their destination in January 1909 to claim it for the British Empire. This return hike too was marred by fatigue, food shortages and severe weather, threatening to delay them from a planned rendezvous with the vessel Nimrod which had returned from New Zealand to pick the parties up. Having missed the ship’s first pass of the shore, the group was spotted and retrieved by the vessel two days later. The Northern Party’s mission was achieved entirely by man-hauling without dogs or ponies, led by Welsh Australian geology professor T. W. Edgeworth David who Shackleton had appointed as the Nimrod expedition’s scientific director.

The third lot, the Western Party, were dispatched twice. Their first job was to plant stores along the Northern Party’s return path from the South Magnetic Pole. Their second operation was to explore the Ferrar Glacier, flowing from the plateau of Victoria Land across 35 miles (56 km) to McMurdo Sound. In doing so, they carried out a full geological survey in the Dry Valleys region and explored new expanses of Victoria Land. Their closest call occurred when they were back on the coast awaiting the Nimrod‘s arrival. The sea ice they were camping on broke loose and nearly took them out of McMurdo Sound save for a momentary brush against the shore, enabling the men to escape. After three weeks of frigid coast-side camping, they were found, rescued, and returned to New Zealand along with the rest of the company to great acclaim.

In the last pages of the book, Shackleton writes about encountering the milder latitudes once more: “That was a wonderful day to all of us. For over a year we had seen nothing but rocks, ice, snow, and sea. There had been no colour and no softness in the scenery of the Antarctic; no green growth had gladdened our eyes, no musical notes of birds had come to our ears. We had had our work, but we had been cut off from most of the lesser things that go to make life worth while. No person who has not spent a period of his life in those ‘stark and sullen solitudes that sentinel the Pole’ will understand fully what trees and flowers, sun-flecked turf and running streams mean to the soul of a man.”

I can attest to that euphoric sensation following even a scant month in Antarctica. Yet if there’s anything to match the experience of flora after the Ice, it is surely the experience of the Ice after flora. Shackleton likely agreed, for in five years’ time he was sailing for the southern continent once more, this time at the helm of the Endurance.

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The Heart of the Antarctic, Being the Story of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 was first published in two volumes by William Heinemann, London, in November 1909. Heinemann also issued a three-volume deluxe edition of 300 numbered vellum-bound copies that year. This scarce set’s third volume, titled The Antarctic Book, includes Shackleton’s poem “Erebus” and Mawson’s fiction piece “Bathybia,” drawn from the pages of the expedition’s home-grown Aurora Australis. It also includes etchings by expedition artist George Marston. Significantly, this third volume features on two leaves the hand-written signatures of all fifteen shore party members; the British participants on one side and the Australian participants on the other.

Pictured in the photos above is the New Popular Edition published by Heinemann in May 1932. It condensed Shackleton’s text into a single volume, offering the book to a larger public at an affordable price.


Filed under: Antarctic Bookshelf,Antarctic History and Exploration — mbartalos @ 10:37 pm

October 30, 2012

Antarctic Bookshelf 4: The Endurance by Caroline Alexander

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Shackleton aficionados seeking a companion piece to Alfred Lansing’s classic Endurance will find great satisfaction in Caroline Alexander’s book, The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition. Following Lansing by 39 years and the expedition itself by 84, Alexander elaborates further on the crew’s personalities, interactions, and ordeals. The text is a product of deep research, contact with families of the expedition members, and access to documents and diaries which, according to the author, were safeguarded for many years.

Many of the crew’s diary entries are juicy, opinionated, and humorous. They reveal as much about the writers as they do about their colleagues (names are named) and since the majority of the crew kept journals of some kind, their collective writings describe the group dynamic comprehensively.

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Distinguishing this book are 140 photographs taken by Frank Hurley, the expedition’s photo documentarian. Hurley, an Australian, had run away from home at age 13 and worked at a steel mill and dockyards before returning to study at the local technical school and attend science lectures at the University of Sydney. He eventually became a self-taught photographer, setting himself up in the picture-postcard business. Hurley reportedly had an early taste for danger, gaining a reputation for putting himself at risk in order to achieve spectacular images such as situating himself on railroad tracks to capture oncoming trains on film. Led by his adventurousness, at age 25 Hurley signed on as official photographer to Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14 which explored the 2000-mile long Antarctic coastline south of Australia. That voyage subsequently brought Hurley to Shackleton’s attention.

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Enlisted as Shackleton’s photographer in 1914, Hurley advanced his reputation for stopping at nothing to secure a memorable picture. He ventured into darkness, fog and uncertain terrain to get his shots, and scaled the extreme heights of the ship’s rigging to capture majestic panoramas. As Lionel Greenstreet, the vessel’s First Officer, wrote: “Hurley is a warrior with his camera & would go anywhere or do anything to get a picture.”

Alexander elaborates on Hurley’s dedication to his art: “Once the Endurance became trapped, Hurley turned his camera to both the domestic life of the ship, and to the vision of it improbably suspended in the protean world of the ice. On duty at all hours of the day or night, sometimes arising at midnight to take photographs, he was keenly sensitive to the variegated and ever-changing play of light, continually elated at this spectacle of sky and ice and shadows.”

Hurley’s nighttime images of the doomed Endurance are among his best-known photos. His diary entry of August 27, 1915, describes this undertaking: “During night take flashlight of ship beset by pressure. This necessitated some 20 flashes, one behind each salient pressure hummock, no less than 10 of the flashes being required to satisfactorily illuminate the ship herself. Half blinded after the successive flashes, I lost my bearings amidst hummocks, bumping shins against projecting ice points & stumbling into deep snow drifts.”

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The importance of Hurley’s work was not lost on Shackleton. As the Endurance was going under, ‘The Boss’ saw to it that 120 of the photographer’s best images and some motion-picture footage be saved from the sea. Having curated their selection, Shackleton and Hurley then smashed the remaining 400 glass negatives to expel any temptation of taking them along, recognizing that the party’s survival depended on meeting space and weight limitations. Twenty of the rescued plates include Hurley’s pioneering images using the briefly popular Paget process of color photography, featured in an earlier Long View post.

Obligated to cast off his professional equipment as well, Hurley captured the rest of the expedition on a handheld Vest Pocket Kodak camera and three rolls of film. In testament to his talent, the small-format photos are as fascinating as the larger images and as revealing as diary entries. To see the men’s eyes is to connect with them emotionally; to witness their transformation over the course of the expedition is to comprehend their ordeal; to behold their rescue on Elephant Island is to fathom heroism and miraculousness against all odds.

The very first time I read Lansing’s Endurance, I was unaware of Alexander’s book and kept wishing for a thorough photographic reference to navigate by. Alexander provides this much needed pictorial resource, and her text too is an enlightening complement to Lansing’s narration. With both books you may, like me, find yourself reading Lansing and Alexander side-by-side, cross-referencing the two for the ultimate Endurance experience.

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The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition was first published in 1998 by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, in association with the American Museum of Natural History. The book served as the catalog for the museum’s 1999 Shackleton exhibition which showcased Frank Hurley’s photos and film footage as well as the legendary James Caird lifeboat.


Filed under: Antarctic Bookshelf,Antarctic History and Exploration — mbartalos @ 2:08 pm

August 31, 2012

Antarctic Bookshelf 3: Endurance by Alfred Lansing

Ernest Shackleton is a central figure to my Long View Project which draws heavily on his Nimrod Expedition at Cape Royds. So I’ve been reading more about him (and by him) to gain insight into his legendary status in history. Most recently I read Alfred Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage which became a bestseller on its publication in 1959. Still in print, it’s perhaps the most popular book about Shackleton ever written.

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A brief synopsis, spoiler and all:

Lansing’s story opens with a ship’s demise in the frozen Weddell Sea; its crew of 28 evacuate onto the pack ice that is crushing their vessel. The stranded party, we learn, is Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–17 (better known as the Endurance Expedition) whose initial objective was to attempt the first land crossing of Antarctica. Denied of even reaching land, the Endurance crew quickly shift their sights to surviving atop drifting ice floes.

Months later as the ice breaks up, they take to three lifeboats which they’d mercifully salvaged from their ship before it sank. In the face of relentless hardship and weather, the team, still miraculously intact, reaches tiny Elephant Island in the sub-Antarctic Ocean. They are on land for the first time in 497 days but the isolated frozen crag offers no hope of passing ships or rescue.

Consequently, Shackleton sets off with five of his men in the lifeboat James Caird for South Georgia Island to bring relief. The 800-mile journey succeeds against all odds, but lands them on the uninhabited side of the mountainous island, necessitating the first overland trek ever to the other side. Through more ice and snow, this too they survive — barely.

By this time winter has set in, surrounding Elephant Island in ice. Another four months pass before Shackleton can access it by rescue ship. When he does, he finds his entire party still alive, concluding one of the most incredible survival stories of all time.

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Alfred Lansing wasn’t the only one to chronicle the Endurance adventure. Shackleton and at least four of his crew members published accounts of the voyage upon returning home, and there’s been a steady flow of literature since. But Lansing’s narrative stands apart for the sheer amount of research involved in piecing it together. According to his publisher, Lansing consulted with ten of the surviving expedition members and gained access to diaries and personal accounts by eight others. It shows in the nuanced descriptions of the men and their personalities, opinions, emotions, and relationships. These real-life human perspectives color the story, move it forward, and lend credibility to an extreme tale that could otherwise pass for fiction.

With Shackleton at the center of each unfolding drama, a comprehensive profile of his leadership emerges: ‘The Boss,’ as his men called him, was immensely respected for his generous character and principles of fairness. He shunned preferential treatment and partook in the grunt work equally. His ability to remain positive and decisive under the most challenging circumstances brought out the best in his team, and he maintained morale by keeping everyone occupied and essential to the effort. Perhaps most importantly, he possessed a sense of humanity that placed his crew’s mental and physical well-being ahead of all else.

Which isn’t to say that The Boss was infallible. He made his share of misjudgements along the way which Lansing readily points out. Readers may wonder why the voyage proceeded at all, given that the Weddell Sea’s ice conditions that year were the worst in memory and that veteran whalers there tried dissuading Shackleton from sailing until the following season.

My guess is that quitting simply went against Shackleton’s grain. Also, the trip was a limited-time opportunity: World War I was just erupting, reducing the chance of another try at the expedition anytime soon. And most certainly, his assessment of the situation differed from that of the whalers. As his granddaughter Alexandra points out: “He was a very practical person, and he would have never attempted anything that he thought could not be done. The main reason was that, above all, he had the lives of his men to consider.”

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The first edition of Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage is shown in the photos above. It was published in 1959 by McGraw-Hill New York and Hodder & Stoughton, London. It’s desirable for the annotated endpaper map and a collection of captioned photos by expedition photographer Frank Hurley. A subsequent edition published by Carroll & Graf (1986/1996), pictured below, lacks the map and interior photos. The latest edition, issued by Basic Books (1999), announces a map and illustrations as part of the package.

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Expect a wave of interesting new print and online material to emerge as the Endurance centenary approaches. There are a number of exciting events and celebrations in the works too, including adventurer Tim Jarvis’s Shackleton Epic which will attempt to recreate the journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia in a replica of the James Caird using similar materials, clothing, food and equipment to that of the 1916 crossing. It should be a good one to follow.


Filed under: Antarctic Bookshelf,Antarctic History and Exploration — mbartalos @ 11:36 pm

July 9, 2012

Long View Study No. 21 (Cape Royds)

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My series on Antarctic research stations continues with a salute to Ernest Shackleton’s Cape Royds hut, home base to his team’s 1907-09 British Antarctic Expedition, also known as the Nimrod Expedition. The Royds hut facilitated cutting-edge polar science of its day in the areas of geology, zoology, geography and meteorology. The scientific team’s director, Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David, led from here the first parties ever to reach the South Magnetic Pole and the summit of Mt. Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano. Royds was also the launch pad for Shackleton’s 1908 attempt for the South Geographic Pole. His team trekked to within 97 nautical miles (180.6 km / 112.2 mi) of their goal, the farthest south attained by any expedition at the time.

It was also at Royds that Shackleton’s men printed and bound Aurora Australis, the first book ever published in Antarctica. It consisted of of essays, poems and drawings printed on a hand press in an edition of about 25 completed copies whose wooden covers were fashioned from provisions cases. Such crates, in abundance, were repurposed by them for hut shelving and furniture as well.

My use of wood, letterpress makeready, typographic letterforms, and book / bookshelf structure in Long View Study No. 21 allude to the Shackleton team’s production of Aurora Australis and their resourcefulness. The collage’s central figure is Sir Ernest himself who edited the book, wrote its two prefaces, and contributed an ode to Mount Erebus under the pseudonym NEMO.

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My piece functions either as a wall hanging or a free-standing artwork. A detached wooden element serves as a shelf embellishment in wall mode or as a bottom support in free-standing mode. In either case the right-hand ‘shelf unit’ is modifiable with extra shelves of varying lengths. The hinged ‘spine’ indicates the manner in which the complete string of Long View panels will connect to one another to form an accordion-fold structure.


May 31, 2011

Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ in Color, 1915

Frank Hurley was an Australian photographer and adventurer, most famous for his series
of artful photographs documenting Shackleton’s epic ‘Endurance’ expedition of 1914-17.
While the black-and-white images are well-known, a less familiar but equally stunning set
of his color pictures was recently put online by the State Library of New South Wales
in Sydney. I thought I’d share some of them here.

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The color photographs were taken in 1915, the year the Endurance was crushed
by Antarctic ice in the Weddell Sea. They are among 120 glass plates in total that
Shackleton and Hurley chose to retrieve from the sinking ship. The captain and
photographer then smashed the remaining 400 plates to eliminate any temptation
of taking them along, recognizing that the party’s survival depended on meeting
space and weight limitations. The crew did endure their perilous 500-day ordeal,
as did the 120 photographic plates which they hauled by sledge and lifeboat, now
allowing us a glimpse into one of polar history’s most dramatic voyages.

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Frank Hurley considered his color photos “amongst the most valuable records of the expedition.” He used an early polychrome process called Paget, which was patented
in 1912 in England and remained in use until the 1920s.

Paget used two plates, one a traditional black-and-white negative, the other a red,
green, and blue screen scored with a pattern of dots and lines. The negative was
contact-printed to made a transparency positive which was combined with the
matching color screen to achieve the final image. The process was eventually
eclipsed by the truer, richer colors captured by autochrome and later by Koda-
chrome.

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The Endurance was the second of Hurley’s three voyages to Antarctica. His first was
as official photographer to Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition of
1911-14 which brought him to Shackleton’s attention. In 1914, Hurley was signed
on to the Endurance venture where he continued raising exploration photography to
new levels through unique compositions and storytelling with both still and movie
cameras.

His achievements are all the more impressive for the extreme conditions he braved.
He climbed masts, traversed splitting ice floes, and trekked in subfreezing temperatures
— often at night — to take his innovative photos. Lionel Greenstreet, the Endurance’s
First Officer, wrote of him: “Hurley is a warrior with his camera & would go anywhere
or do anything to get a picture.”

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Getting the pictures was only part of the challenge; developing them on the ice-trapped
ship was another. The temperature in Hurley’s darkroom hovered around freezing, and
water for washing his plates was obtained by melting blocks of ice. He described the
difficulty in his diary: “Washing plates is a most troublesome operation, as the tank
must be kept warm or the plates become an enclosure in an ice block… Development
is a source of annoyance to the fingers which split & crack around the nails in a painful
manner.”

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In 1917, Hurley returned to South Georgia (pictured in the four photos above) for his
final Antarctic filming expedition, culminating in the 1919 motion picture “In the Grip
of the Polar Pack” featuring his footage of the Endurance expedition. The movie quickly
became a critical and popular success, and his still photography also gained a wide
audience as Shackleton featured it in his lecture tours.

Hurley’s original photography and footage more recently appeared in NOVA’s giant-screen
film Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure as well as Shackleton’s Voyage of Endurance first
broadcast on NOVA in 2002. The Royal Geographical Society in London currently curates
Hurley’s original glass plate negatives and his original prints are held by the Scott Polar
Research Institute in Cambridge and the Macklin Collection in Aberdeen, Scotland.

A comprehensive selection of Hurley’s Paget color glass transparencies from the
Endurance expedition is showcased by the State Library of New South Wales online.


Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration — mbartalos @ 11:43 pm

June 11, 2010

Long View Study No. 10 (Bellingshausen)

Who discovered Antarctica? Any number of early pioneers are credited, depending on how their accounts are interpreted. Here are the all-time top candidates:

The first reported sighting was by Russian Imperial Navy officer Fabian Gottlieb (Thaddeus) von Bellingshausen while commanding the second Russian expedition to circumnavigate the globe. Bellingshausen recorded seeing “ice mountains” on January 28, 1820 in the vicinity of what is now known to be the East Antarctic coastline. However his journals don’t mention that it may be land, and his expedition charts don’t indicate any land.

Two days later in the continent’s northwestern quadrant, British navy captain Edward Bransfield sighted the northernmost point of the Antarctic mainland, named it Trinity Peninsula, and produced the first recorded Antarctic land chart.

The next sighting of the continent was by American sealer Nathaniel Palmer in November 1820 — yet neither he, Bransfield, nor Bellingshausen were first to set foot on the continent. That distinction is claimed by American sealer John Davis who allegedly made the first landing on February 7, 1821 on the Antarctic peninsula’s west coast.

While these early pioneers certainly speculated on having encountered a significant land mass (John Davis’s logbook entry reads: “I think this Southern Land to be a Continent”), the first person to actually know he’d discovered a whole continent was United States Navy commander Charles Wilkes. In 1839-40 Wilkes’ expedition sailed along the edge of the ice pack south of Australia for some 1,500 miles, confirming the existence “of an Antarctic continent west of the Balleny Islands.”

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This image depicts Bellingshausen, winner on the timeline if not for best evidence. He’s aboard his flagship, a 600-ton corvette named the VOSTOK (meaning “East”) after which the Russian research station and fascinating subglacial lake are named. The letters VOSTOK are incorporated into the piece and the graphic element on the right edge is Bellingshausen’s stylized Russian initials ФФБ.

The artwork was created with cut paper and graphite and is currently in MOVE, a group show curated by Rich Jacobs at Space 1026 in Philadelphia.


Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Studies — mbartalos @ 10:33 pm

October 11, 2009

Long View Study No. 6-7

This diptych pays homage to Antarctic explorer Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David, director of scientific staff on Shackleton’s 1907-09 Nimrod Expedition. On that voyage, David led the first parties ever to reach the South Magnetic Pole and the summit of Mt. Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano.

He was also a participant in the Nimrod crew’s production of the book Aurora Australis.
His 35-page narrative account titled The Ascent of Mount Erebus is the edition’s single lengthiest contribution.

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My artwork’s left side references David’s lifelong engagement with geological investigations. The right-hand panel’s images represent his alma mater New College Oxford, his ascent of Mt. Erebus, his epic voyage to the ice plateau and back, and his professorship at the University of Sydney till age 82.

In 1920 David was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire,
and later helped set up the Australian National Research Council and served as its first President. Clearly his accomplishments — and these are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ so to speak — are too numerous to fit into a mere diptych so I’ll be paying additional respects
in my final 12″ square panels.

This study measures 16″ wide x 9″ high. It was created in graphite and cut paper (using mostly found and recycled stock as usual) mounted on gessoed wood panels. It can be seen along with LV Study #5 at CUTTERS: An Exhibition of International Collage curated by James Gallagher at Cinders Gallery in Brooklyn from October 16 through November 15.

Photo © Australian Antarctic Division 2008
Photo © Australian Antarctic Division 2008

Lastly, I can’t close out this post without including David’s iconic self-portrait of himself (center) and his teammates Dr. Alistair Mackay (left) and Douglas Mawson raising the flag at the Magnetic South Pole on January 16, 1909. Their epic trek took over four months and 1,200 miles to complete. A thorough account of this journey replete with perils and close calls can be found in the Nimrod chapter of the Shackleton story here.


Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Studies — mbartalos @ 10:43 pm

August 14, 2009

LV Sketchbook Page 025

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The 1988 Madrid Protocol, as I mentioned yesterday, calls for all Antarctic Treaty countries to remove their old trash as well as their newly generated waste from the continent. Twenty years on, cleaning up the old stuff remains the taller order because of irreversible early waste management practices.

One such practice involved bulldozing rubbish out onto sea ice during winter to have it sink when the ice broke up in spring. “Sea-icing,” as it was called, had its heyday from 1955 (when McMurdo Station was built) to 1981 (when sea-icing was discontinued). During this period, scores of fuel drums, machinery and scrap metal accumulated off McMurdo’s shores. Open burning, untreated sewage, oil and chemical spills, and coastal landfills also contributed high concentrations of hydrocarbons, PCBs, and other toxic chemicals to the water and bottom sediments.

View across Winter Quarters Bay towards McMurdo Station in January 2009, with Scott's Discovery Hut at left.

The primary dumping ground during those decades was Winter Quarters Bay, seen here in January ’09 with a view towards McMurdo. Robert Falcon Scott had used this natural harbor to anchor his ship Discovery for two winters during his 1901-04 expedition. During their stay, he and his crew built the historic Discovery Hut seen at left.

Winter Quarters Bay would never be that clean again. By the 1990s, the cove was deemed one of the most polluted spots on Earth. (“Testing Tainted Waters.”)

Despite the clean-ups, contamination still exists and is likely to remain for some time. One reason is that hydrocarbons break down at very slow rates in Antarctic temperatures. Another factor is the cost and logistics of retrieving vast quantities of sunken trash. According to a 2001 New Zealand sponsored study, researchers revealed 15 vehicles, 26 shipping containers, and 603 fuel drums among approximately 1,000 items strewn across the Winter Quarters seabed. In addition, a 2005 survey determined that the act of decontaminating the bay risked creating greater adverse environmental impact than leaving the waste where it is. (“Contaminants Measured Near McMurdo.”)

On a positive note, the bay’s contaminants appear to be localized thanks to a shoal that prevents the toxins from spreading into open water beyond. I imagine Captain Scott cheering for that. And toasting the Madrid Protocol. And flipping over conscientious waste management. And high-fiving Shackleton over the ban on sea-icing.

This could be good sketch material. In the meanwhile, today’s drawing/collage juxtaposes stacks of stuff in Scott’s hut with stacks of stuff submerged outside his door to illuminate the proximity and continuity between them. More artwork to follow on this theme.


Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Environment,Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:37 pm

March 25, 2009

LV Sketchbook Page 004

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The subject of this ‘sister image’ to yesterday’s post is whaling.

The first Antarctic whaling station was established in 1904 at South Georgia island. By the mid-20th century, several of the eight whale species that populate Antarctic waters had been hunted to the edge of extinction. They’re now gradually recovering thanks to international regulation of commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean, though their numbers aren’t nearly that of a hundred years ago.

At the other end of the world by contrast, whale hunting has been central to the Inupiat people’s subsistence for over a millennium. I’m currently marveling over thewhalehunt.org, a unique photo-documentary of an Inupiat whale hunt in Barrow, Alaska. Its extraordinary approach to storytelling and brilliant interface was created by Jonathan Harris, with stunning photography by Andrew Moore. Not to be missed.


Filed under: Antarctic History and Exploration,Environment,Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:14 pm
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